The annual conference took place in the NPD's facilities in Stavanger on 16 September with the main theme "Health, environment and safety in a three-way perspective", and was the first conference organised by the Safety Forum.
One of the main goals of the conference was to disseminate information about the work that is being done in this key three-way arena in the petroleum activities, and about projects and processes which the Safety Forum is involved in.
The Safety Forum was a partner and consultation body for Storting White Paper No. 7 (2001-2002) on health, environment and safety in the petroleum activities. At the conference State Secretary Lars Arne Ryssdal in the Ministry of Labour and Government Administration, spoke on the status and the path towards a new Storting White Paper, to be issued in 2005/2006.
A cool climate
In his opening address, Director General Gunnar Berge spoke of the reason why the Safety Forum was established – the fact that relations towards the end of the 90s had become somewhat cool.
"It was emphasised that good three-way cooperation had to be revitalised – the relationship between offshore and land, as well as between management, employee representatives, safety delegates and the authorities.
The Safety Forum had its first official meeting on 1 February 2001, and it had, to quote the minutes, been organised "to re-establish trust" and "to listen instead of being negative," Berge emphasised in his introduction.
"It seems clear to me that the members of the new forum, who were experienced managers and HES professionals from both the employer and the employee side and the NPD, must have taken this challenge seriously – with the Ministry of Labour and Government Administration as a very interested observer," said Berge.
Ketil Karlsen, who is the HES coordinator in Nopef and a member of the Safety Forum, confirmed this impression in his presentation "The Safety Forum – rubber stamping or genuine three-way cooperation?". Karlsen started by pointing out that the atmosphere between the parties was very bad in the 90s.
"Letters that we sent to OLF on HES issues were not answered, and we had no cooperation at all regarding HES issues. Researchers, the NPD, the media and trade unions all agreed that this state of affairs was unsatisfactory. ... The debate on the HES level on the shelf was conducted mainly in the media and not in those forums where one might achieve organised, binding cooperation on HES issues. In other words, there was no proactive, ongoing safety work which included all the interested parties," Karlsen underlined.
During the summer of 2000 Nopef and others took an initiative to improve cooperation, and the NPD was asked by the central government to set up a new committee with a mandate and broad representation. The Safety Forum was established with Magne Ognedal, NPD's Director for follow-up, as its chairman.
"The Forum deals with an extremely broad spectrum of issues; from cancer surveys in the industry to the Storting White Paper on HES in the oil industry. The Forum is also a reference group for the HES research financed by the Ministry of Labour and Government Administration. The Forum has an open way of working, which means that it cannot choose to ignore unpleasant issues. The minutes are published on the In ternet, and anyone can have a look at what we are doing," Karlsen emphasised.
During the last few years several working groups and projects have been started for the purpose of looking at safety and the working environment on the Norwegian shelf, using the three-way perspective. The Safety Forum is a reference group for several of these groups.
"The NPD's Safety Forum has in my opinion become what we wanted, and more," Karlsen concluded. The head of OFS, Terje Nustad, also spoke warmly of the Safety Forum's importance in HES work.
"The Safety Forum has been set up by politicians and the authorities on account of a negative HES trend. It was necessary to establish the Forum to return to a positive HES trend in the Norwegian oil and gas industry. A forum where all the parties involved can be active and contribute without the business interests being too prominent or dominating – that is an arena where OFS feels much more comfortable and will use its expertise to make a positive contribution," Nustad said.
Plenty of challenges
During the panel debate with members of the Safety Forum it was emphasised that there are many HES challenges ahead which may upset both the trust and the positive trend regarding the safety level on the shelf.
Nopef and OFS are warning the industry not to take every opportunity to upset the current HES standards by claiming that the Norwegian regulations make the prices go up, or that Norwegian pay and working conditions are too good.
"Such statements will be seen as attacks on the rights we have achieved, and they belong in collective wage negotiations," Øivind Gregersen in Nopef pointed out.
Roy Erling Furre in OFS warned against a trend towards a freer flow of personnel, reduced training requirements, more campaign maintenance and a tougher contracts policy. Furre fears such things will contribute to a decline in expertise and professionalism within safety and working environment.
Several members of the panel also expressed a concern that the Petroleum Safety Authority must be given sufficient funds to fulfil its supervisory tasks, not least when it on 1 January also takes over responsibility for safety and working environment in land-based petroleum activities.
"This concern has been raised in the Safety Forum and is shared by all its members," Øyvind Gregersen in Nopef emphasised.
Magnhild Meltveit Kleppa, chairman of the Storting's Local Government Committee, had been invited to speak about the politicians' expectations for the new Petroleum Safety Authority, which will be in operation from 1 January 2004.
She made it clear that the Local Government Committee is expecting a Petroleum Safety Authority which is visible, sends a clear message and is given sufficient funds to carry out a coordinating and uniform supervisory role concerning health, environment and safety on the Norwegian shelf.